While researching something else, it dawned on me that I’d never actually sat down and wrote about one of my all time favorites, Bob Gibson. I did a little something a few years back (25 October 2010 titled “Bob Gibson Gets Me a Car”) on how a bet on the 1967 World Series netted me enough to buy a used car (and Gibson was instrumental in that win) but I’d never actually centered something on him. Time to change that.
Gibson came out of Omaha before Peyton Manning made the town a sports word. He did a little work with the Harlem Globetrotters, then joined the St. Louis Cardinals. He made his debut in 1959 against the Dodgers. He worked the last two innings in relief, gave up a couple of runs, including a home run to Jim Baxes, the first batter he faced in the National League. His opponent was Don Drysdale.
Gibson got better. After two seasons with a losing record, he finished over .500 for the first time in 1961 (13-12). Unfortunately, he also led the NL in walks. He made his first All Star Game in 1962 and led the NL in shutouts. In 1964 he won 19 games, was either the ace or the “two” pitcher, depending on your view of Ray Sadecki, and helped the Cards to their first World Series since 1946. He lost his first game, then won two more, including game seven, as St. Louis won the Series and he was named MVP. He got into two more World Series. The one in 1967 saw him win three games, set the single game strikeout record for a Series, and pick up his second World Series MVP award (and a car for me).
In 1968 he was awesome. He was 22-9 (.710 percentage) and led the NL in ERA (1.12), shutouts (13), strikeouts (268), ERA+ (258), WHIP (0.853), WAR (11.2), and about anything else you can do on a mound including raking it. It got him an MVP Award and his first Cy Young Award. He won two games in the World Series, but lost game seven as Detroit stopped the Cards.
He led the NL in wins one more time and picked up a second Cy Young Award. He started slipping in 1973 and was done by 1975. For his career he was 251-174 (.591), had 56 shutouts, 3117 strikeouts, a 2.91 ERA (ERA+ of 127) a 1.188 WHIP, 81.9 WAR, an MVP Award, and two Cy Young Awards. In World Series play he was 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA 0.889 WHIP, 92 strikeouts, two rings, and two Series, MVP Awards. The Hall of Fame call came in 1981, his first year.
Gibson got to St. Louis at an important time in the team history. Integration had just occurred and there were still problems about it on the team. The stature of Stan Musial, who had no problem with it and went out of his way to make black players welcome on the team, helped some, but the tensions were still there. And to be a black pitcher was, in some circles, almost an affront to decency. Gibson overcame that and became probably the best pitcher in Cardinals history. He did it through determination, grit, and sheer ability. Over the years he’s become famous (or infamous depending on your view) as a fierce, almost violent pitcher who took hits as a personal challenge. If you watched him on the mound the determination showed through even a TV set. Heck, he scared me through the lens. The way he lunged forward when he threw made him even more scary. Of course that kind of determination and desire for domination led to one of his most famous moments. He was hit in the leg, breaking the bone. Unwilling to admit it, he took the ball, set up, and unleashed one last pitch as he fell to the ground and had to be taken off the field. That moment epitomized Bob Gibson unlike almost anything else he did.
He has one of the better World Series records. OK, he has the most strikeouts in a game and in a single Series, but there’s another most people overlook. In his career he lost his first Series game and lost his last. In between he won seven games in a row. No one else, not Whitey Ford, not Red Ruffing, not Allie Reynolds (the other men with seven or more World Series wins) won seven World Series games in a row.
Over the years he’s kind of gotten lost. He was truly the most dominant pitcher in baseball for a very short time. Before him there was Sandy Koufax. Then came Tom Seaver. In between he had to contend with Juan Marichal and Drysdale. It seems to have cost him something of his luster.
He did have the advantage of spending much of his career with Tim McCarver as his catcher. Whatever you think of him as a color guy, McCarver is one of the great storytellers in baseball. He ended up spinning one Gibson tale after another and it helped Gibson remain in the public eye a little more. My favorite story goes like this:
The manager ordered an intentional walk. McCarver held up four fingers, stepped over, held up his glove, and watched the first pitch drill the batter solidly in the ribs. He went out to the mound asking what happened? Gibson told him that he (Gibson) had just saved three pitches. See why I got a car betting on him?